They may not have won either title, but Mercedes have nonetheless progressed perhaps more than any other team on the grid from 2012 to 2013. There are still two races remaining in the 2013 season, but with 17 races done this year it’s a good time to assess just how well the team from Brackley has done.
In 2012, Mercedes finished fifth in the Constructors’ Championship with 142 points. The team recorded one victory (Rosberg won in China), one pole position (again, Rosberg in China. It’s worth remembering that Schumacher qualified fastest in Monaco but had a grid penalty from the previous race) and three podium finishes. Although 2012 saw the first win for the Silver Arrows since returning to the grid in 2010, it was their least successful season in terms of the Constructors’ Championship in the same period.
At the end of 2012, Mercedes were considered to be about 1.5 seconds off the pace. That’s a long, long way. It seemed impossible that Mercedes could make up that deficit in just one off-season. But that’s precisely what they did.
Mercedes came out fighting in 2013, immediately challenging strongly in qualifying and delivering the sort of race pace that had been unimaginable in 2012. They struggled a bit with tyre management, which had been a problem for the team ever since Pirelli arrived on the scene in 2011. But those issues were generally manageable and were eventually sorted out.
Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull have dominated the last seven races. But before that, the season was quite open, and Mercedes were strong challengers. In the first 11 races of the season, a Mercedes driver qualified on pole position 8 times – 5 for Hamilton, including 4 in a row, and 3 in succession for Rosberg – and the Silver Arrows recorded three wins – 2 for Rosberg and 1 for Hamilton.
Between them, Hamilton and Rosberg have stood on the podium 9 times so far in 2013 – 5 times for Hamilton and 4 for Rosberg. They’ve each scored more points than the team as a whole managed in 2012 and both are in the top six in the Drivers’ Championship. Hamilton has a chance (albeit a small one) of finishing second in the championship. It’s more likely that he will overhaul Kimi Raikkonen for third place, as the Finn is just 8 points ahead of Hamilton with two races to go.
The Mercedes team of 2013 has stood out as the most improved outfit on the grid. This season the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships proved out of reach, but not by nearly as much as before. The amount of performance gained in the last off-season bodes well for next year, when massive regulation changes make pre-season development perhaps more crucial than ever.
Where Mercedes have perhaps fallen behind this year has been their in-season development. Winning championships is not just about producing a competitive car. The car must continually be improved and updated throughout the season or the competitive edge will be lost to other teams who are able to develop faster. This year it’s been Red Bull who have impressed most in their ability to improve their car through the season, and they have been rewarded with both championships for the fourth year in succession.
It could turn out that Mercedes are more capable of in-season development than they revealed this season. Next year’s major regulation changes – new power units and various aerodynamic changes – have meant that all teams have had to allocate some resources to next year’s car quite early in the season or perhaps even before this year started. Next year there will not be such a need to split resources early on, and as a result the true development potential of the Mercedes team should be seen in on-track performance in 2014.
Based on their massive progress from 2012 to 2013, Mercedes can be counted on to produce a competitive car for 2014. It will almost certainly be a race-winning car and, if they continue to improve as they’ve done over the last year or so, there’s a chance it could be a championship-winning car.
In recent weeks, there has been much speculation about the possibility of Lewis Hamilton moving to Mercedes, either to replace a retiring Michael Schumacher or to swap seats with Nico Rosberg. Hamilton and McLaren have said nothing definitive about the continuation of their relationship, and Mercedes have not confirmed their driver pairing either.
However, gpupdate.net today quoted Nico Rosberg as saying “I will definitely be with the Silver Arrows next year,” which, although not an official team statement, does seem to suggest that the only potential change at Mercedes would involve Schumacher.
Rosberg reportedly went on to say “I think it would be right for Michael to stay, as well. We get along well but there is good competition between us. He is still driving at a very, very high level and it’s a challenge to be up against him. Together, we’re pushing the team forward well.”
Rosberg’s statement shows that Schumacher’s future is not yet decided, but also that the seven-time World Champion still has much to offer. That, added to Heinz-Harald Frentzen’s vote of confidence in Schumacher in recent days, suggests that the legendary German is likely to stick with Mercedes for at least another season.
If the Mercedes driver pairing does stay the same for next season, that of course raises the question of what will happen to Hamilton. While he has not announced a move, negotiations with McLaren do not seem to be progressing, which will no doubt continue to fuel speculation about his future.
When Michael Schumacher returned to Formula One in 2010 he would not have expected to be outpaced by his team-mate, but that is precisely what happened. Nico Rosberg was easily the more competitive driver in 2010 and again in 2011, although Schumacher had certainly recovered some of his speed by the second year of his comeback.
In 2012, however, the story is somewhat different. Rosberg leads Schumacher in the points table, but behind that difference is a tale of two cars – one reliable, one not. Schumacher has retired six times in 13 races, whereas Rosberg has finished every time. Only once was Schumacher’s retirement his own doing – in Spain, where he crashed into Bruno Senna. The other five DNF’s were caused by failures on the car or mistakes by the pit crew.
Looking at only those races where both cars finished, Rosberg has beaten Schumacher only once – in Bahrain, where Schumacher started 22nd after a DRS failure in qualifying and a five-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox. The other six time both cars have finished, Schumacher has been ahead.
Schumacher has never been beaten by a team-mate in Formula One until he joined Mercedes. He will not have enjoyed seeing Rosberg ahead of him for two seasons, and will be much gratified to be Mercedes’ quicker driver at the moment. Whether or not this form will continue to the end of the season remains to be seen, but it promises to deliver an interesting battle between the team-mates in the remaining seven races of 2012.
Nico Rosberg has long been highly regarded as a Formula One driver. He just hasn’t had the car to challenge for wins and championships. In 2012 Mercedes have given him just that, and he is making the most of it.
Rosberg finally topped the podium in China this year, a day after taking his first pole position in dominant fashion. It showed his ability to win races, but didn’t yet single him out as championship challenger. A couple of mediocre races followed, in which Mercedes struggled to match the pace of the front-runners, presumably due to difficulty with the 2012 Pirelli tyres.
At Monaco everything seemed to come right again for Rosberg. Third in qualifying became second on the grid due to team-mate Schumacher’s five place grid penalty from the Spanish Grand Prix. Second on the grid was converted into second in the race, after a mature and measured drive tucked up behind winner Mark Webber.
Rosberg has been seen as a driver with enormous potential for his entire career. This season, he is converting that potential into results. After Monaco, he lies fifth in the championship, only 17 points behind leader Fernando Alonso. With 14 races left in the season nothing is decided yet, but Rosberg has positioned himself to mount a title challenge.